Eight die in Armenia protest

2008-03-02 16:17

Yerevan - Eight people have died in clashes between police and protesters in the Armenian capital Yerevan, the police said in a statement on Sunday, hours after a state of emergency was imposed.

"The clashes between police and protesters left eight dead," the statement said, citing figures from the health ministry.

The statement did not clarify whether the dead were protesters or police. It added that 33 police had been injured in the clashes.

"The police are calling on all citizens to be careful, to hold back and to obey all the rules of the state of emergency," the statement read.

Tanks and troops patrolled Yerevan on Sunday after violent protests against alleged rigging of a presidential election in the ex-Soviet republic.

The situation was calm following the imposition of a state of emergency late Saturday in response to rioting.

The state of emergency will be in effect in the capital Yerevan until March 20 under a decree signed by President Robert Kocharian.

A dozen armoured personnel carriers and about 100 soldiers stood guard outside the main government building and foreign ministry. Several tanks could be seen at the scene of the night-time clashes between police and protestors.

The last protestors dispersed during the night, but burnt-out cars, stones and poles still littered the streets.

The violence began early Saturday when riot police cleared a central square where protestors had been camped since a February 19 presidential election won by Kocharian's ally, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.

The runner-up, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, said he had been placed under house arrest, although the government denied this.

However, several thousand demonstrators quickly regrouped in another square.

When police tried to disperse them after nightfall the protestors fought back with petrol bombs, sticks and stones. Police used teargas and fired live ammunition into the air.

Protestors finally left the streets after an appeal by their leaders.

A police spokesperson said earlier that eight police officers had suffered gunshot wounds during the unrest and that several were in a serious condition.

Several protesters could be seen with head injuries and burns, but there was no official information on casualties among the demonstrators.

The protesters had massed in Yerevan for an 11th consecutive day protesting alleged rigging of the presidential vote - which Europe's main election monitoring organisation said "mostly" met international standards.

Protesters claim the election was rigged to ensure victory for Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a close ally of the outgoing president.

Official results gave 52.9% of the vote to Sarkisian and 21.5% to Ter-Petrosian.